Director of This Queer House Masha Kevinova talks about being wild, wacky, and explorative on stage
“We’re all about fucking up with form!” exclaims Masha Kevinova, director of This Queer House and artistic director of Opia Collective, which staged the production. Written by Midlands-based author Oakley Flanagan and part of VAULT Festival’s wildly eclectic programme, the play was staged in Network Theatre, which lies in the tunnels underneath London’s Waterloo overground Station. A tearful experience to find (not even on Maps), the atmosphere was serene and unpretentious – a cluttered bookcase full of playwrights Henrik Ibsen and George Bernard Shaw next to a simply-stocked bar and an apology for the limited ‘fabric’ decking out the theatre due to Network Rail’s extravagant charges for rent.
I interviewed Masha in the bar after the one-hour performance. “We wanted to create a platform where the visual meets music and experiment with a mixture of forms’’ she elaborates, “VAULT’s programme is really a place for emerging work and there’s a chance to be wild and wacky and explorative whilst surrounded by talented artists the whole time.” Indeed, wild, wacky, and fucking with forms certainly did take place in This Queer House.
Following a young queer couple – Leah (Humaira Iqbal) and Oli (Live Ello) – who inherit a house and begin a renovation project, the audience witnesses the house develop a life of its own that begins to drive the young couple apart. A truly interesting premise, the delivery was unfortunately haphazard. The script was clunky at best, utterly incoherent at worst, and was oddly distracting from the plot. Vague references to Greek Tragedy such as “a house of blood” and “the Eumenides” hinted at a mysterious analogy that was just a bit too mysterious to actually grasp. Nonetheless, something about the energy of the performance remained engaging. The very disorganisation that proved alienating at times, truly aligned with VAULT’s mission to showcase the explorative – and this was refreshing.
"The very disorganisation that proved alienating at times, truly aligned with VAULT’s mission to showcase the explorative – and this was refreshing."
Whilst none of the actors appeared utterly at home onstage or with each other, the performance was salvaged by moments where their individual talents shone through. Special commendations go to Lucia Young who carried off the transition from outspoken builder/decorator to malicious canine utterly effortlessly and Iqbal’s portrayal of Leah’s descent into unrest was really quite haunting. I would wager this was partly down to Opia Collective’s emphasis on the actor’s lived experience correlating with the character’s, Ello is non-binary and Iqbal identifies as queer, as I was informed by Masha.
“As you probably noticed, the play doesn’t follow a narrative as such,” Masha discloses, “Oakley is massive on Queer Theory, which often stresses the deconstruction of society. The play attempts to do the same thing with formal structure – deconstructing it and making something chaotic!” With this in mind, along with the information that it had been pulled together in a month, I concluded that trying to convey too much within 60 minutes was likely what had produced this rather helter-skelter performance.
"...theatre-goers and theatre-makers should acknowledge that “wild, wacky, and explorative” should mean there is space for imperfection."
I think encounters like this provide food for thought. We enter as an audience member with very high expectations of theatre, whether we like the genre, or the writing, we expect always to be presented with something polished. Opia Collective’s – and Masha’s – ethos that the more brains the better means that whilst wonderful ideas are likely generated (and This Queer House is a wonderful idea), it is unlikely the end product will be glossy and refined. Unimpressed with the script I may have been, I can respect a work in development and I predict exciting things ahead for Opia Collective. Above all, theatre-goers and theatre-makers should acknowledge that “wild, wacky, and explorative” should mean there is space for imperfection.
Opia Collective is a company of female/LGBTQ+ artists who work artistically across various platforms, with an aim to communicate a true and realistic representation of the female and LGBTQ+ experience. They are currently developing a play with Soho Theatre and hope to further their work on This Queer House. This summer will see them embarking on a series of Opia Lates, which will entail workshops and creating a space for creativity to flow